If you’ve drastically increased your time spent in the kitchen since the beginning of the pandemic, you’re not alone! There was even an article about it in The New York Times back in April, which explored how millions of Americans were eating healthier after restaurant closures and lockdowns left us with few alternatives to cooking for ourselves.
Initially I felt a bit skeptical that cooking at home could be inherently healthier than eating out, but it’s true! In a 2013 study at Johns Hopkins University, researchers analyzed survey data from over 9,000 American adults and found that those who cooked frequently at home typically ate a healthier and higher quality diet than those who didn’t.
While knowing I’m eating healthier is a nice little silver lining, it doesn’t change the fact that the food at my favorite restaurants just tastes better than the food I cook at home, and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. But luckily for all of us, simply learning to avoid common cooking pitfalls can go a long way toward ensuring our home cooked meals are the best they can be!
I shared tips for avoiding some of those cooking mistakes in this blog post back in 2018, as well as in a follow-up earlier this year. Today I’ll be sharing 7 MORE mistakes that may be plaguing you in the kitchen and advice for avoid them. Keep these tips in mind as you continue honing your culinary skills through the duration of the pandemic and beyond!
7 MORE Common Cooking Mistakes (And How To Avoid Them)
1. You Cut Veggies Unevenly
Cooking vegetables that are cut unevenly often results in the smaller pieces being overcooked and larger pieces being undercooked. So it’s worth it to cut those veggies as uniformly as possible, even if it takes a little longer!
If you’re worried you lack the necessary precision, get some help from a vegetable slicer or dicer.
2. You Don’t Season Your Cooking Water
If you’re boiling your pasta or potatoes in a pot of plain water, you’re doing it wrong! Well maybe not wrong, but you are skipping over your first opportunity to enhance the flavor of whatever you’re cooking!
Salting your water is a super easy way to season your food from the inside out. Just add salt after the water begins to boil—one to two teaspoons of coarse or kosher salt per quart of water should do the trick (less if you’re using table salt).
For more tips that will help make your next spaghetti night more memorable, check out these pasta hacks!
3. You Don’t Rinse Canned Beans
The cloudy liquid in a can of beans is full of sodium and extra starches. Drain your canned beans into a sieve and give them a good rinse under cool water.
That is, unless your recipe specifically calls for the undrained beans (which happens from time to time with chili and other soups). To find out what other foods you should (or shouldn’t) be rinsing, check out this blog post.
4. You Cut Into Chicken To See If It’s Done
You should always let chicken and other meats rest for at least 3-5 minutes after cooking. This rest period gives the moisture inside the meat enough time to be reabsorbed so that it doesn’t run out onto your cutting board when you cut into it.
So how do you check to make sure that it’s done without slicing into it? Invest in an instant read digital thermometer and use it to verify that your chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165°F.
(My printable cheat sheet for meat temperatures makes the perfect companion to any digital thermometer! Download it for free here.
5. You Only Use Lean Ground Beef
While lean ground beef (around 90% lean and above) is just fine for tacos, meat sauces, and casseroles, it’s not always the best choice for other recipes! Not having enough fat in your ground beef can lead to dry meatloaf and flavorless burgers, which is definitely not what you want!
If you’re cooking something like meatloaf or meatballs, go for 80-85% lean ground beef to ensure it sticks together and retains moisture. And for juicy, flavorful burgers, look for an even higher fat content such as 73-75% lean beef.
6. You Marinate Seafood Too Long
Marinades are made up of three components that work together to add flavor and tenderness: acid, oil, and spices/seasonings. While large cuts like briskets and steaks need to marinate for hours on end to get the desired results, delicate seafood is another matter entirely!
In fact, an “acidic” marinade—think citrus juice or vinegar—can literally cook seafood in as little as a couple of hours, à la ceviche. But if you’re using an acidic marinade with seafood you’re planning to cook on the grill or elsewhere, you should only leave it in for about 20 minutes or so.
7. You Don’t Know Your Oven’s Quirks
While I normally love big personalities, my old oven’s constant mood swings used to drive me up the wall! You’d think that setting an oven to 350°F would actually result in it heating to 350°F, but as is the case with many ovens, that would actually be a pretty big assumption!
Many ovens aren’t as accurate as we give them credit for, and even change their behavior as they age. For these reasons, I always stick to two rules when it comes to my current oven:
- Always use an oven thermometer. I keep mine in my oven full-time, and I made sure to pick one I could read through the oven door so I didn’t have to open it to check the temperature.
- Know your oven’s hot spots. To test for hot spots, perform the “bread test” by covering the middle rack with slices of bread and baking them at 350°F for a few minutes. The most toasted spots indicate that your oven got particularly hot in that area. Once you know where your oven’s hot spots are, you can adjust the position of your food accordingly.
To learn more about how to calibrate your oven for better baking, check out this post.
What’s your favorite cooking tip or trick?